A Travellerspoint blog

El Calafate

Adventure in snow and ice.

snow 0 °C
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The next morning we had to get up very early to make our flight. We knew when we'd booked our flight down to El Calafate, in the South of Patagonia, that we were flying with the old military airline because it was a fraction of the price of the other airlines. We were not however ready for the little plane, still bearing the military insignia, that greeted us at the airport. We were slightly confused when the announcer announced that the flight would be flying to four different destinations, but presumed they were just calling several flights at the same time. They weren't! It turned out that we were about to hop our way done the east coast of Argentina in three hops, much like a bus service. Each hop took about an hour, and in every hop we were served different food, first croissants, then coconut jam tart and then very dry rice with ham and mayo. At each stop we had to wait about half an hour, for the people to get on and off, and for the little tractor to drive out to pick up the bags and carry them the 20 metres or so back to the little airport buildings. As we neared El Calafate, the scenery began to change quite dramatically. From the air we could see meandering glacial rivers, lots of lakes, snow covered mountains and huge flat plains. It looked like a different world! The town of El Calafate itelf, is quite a pretty little town sitting at the edge of Lago Argentina, the largest lake in Argentina. It seems to have grown primarily because of tourism, with people coming from all over the world to sea the glaciers that slide their way down the nearby valleys into the lake. The hostel we were staying in was lovely, it resembled a ski chalet inside, with lots of wood, had heated floors and incredibly helpful staff.

The next morning was another early start because we'd booked onto a boat trip to the glaciers. A bus picked us up from our hostel just after 8, but strangely was still dark. It turned out that the sun didnt rise until about half 9, because El Calafate is so far south but also so far west in its time zone (it is in the same time zone as Rio which as you can see from our map is about 3000km further east!). We boarded a large catamaran and set off towards the glaciers. The water was pretty choppy and incredibly deeps (in places it was over 900m deep!), but the view of the sunrise from the boat was amazing. The contrast between the pink clouds, the mountains and the milky turquoise colour of the water (a result of all the glacial sediment), was so striking! The first glacier we headed for was the Upsalla glacier. As we turned into the main canal coming from the glacier we were greet by a sea of icebergs. Some of them were absolutely enormous. We sailed up the canal but our path was eventually blocked by the icebergs so we were unable to get really close to the glaciar . The icebergs were still amazing though! Our next stop was the Spegazinni glacier. Unlike the upsala glacier there were no icebergs here because the glacier could reach the bottom of the canal (at upsala the canal is much deeper and the glacier cannot touch the bottom, which means that the water underneath the glacier speeds up the melting process, which results in huge icebergs breaking off). The glacier came down a very steep slope before it reached the water and the sudden flattening out upon reaching the water meant the ice has backed up into a huge wall about 100m tall. It was really imposing! Our final stop of the tour was the most famous glacier named after the Argentinian scientist, perito merino. We pulled up about 400m from the northern ice walls and slowly sailed up and down the walls. We were lucky enough to see a large block of ice break off and fall into the water. The splash it and steam it made was enormous and the it made quite a noise. As we sailed back towards the port we shared a bottle of champagne complete with glacier ice. All in all it was an amazing day!

The following day we booked to go "minitrekking" on the perito Moreno glacier. We were taken by boat to the shore closest to the glacier. We had a quick lunch in a wood cabin with a big warm fire and then walked down to the glacier. As we arrived next to the glacier we were fitted with crampons, before we were taken onto the glacier. Our guide was brilliant, explaining all sorts of things about the glaciers, in English before Spanish which made a nice change! As we hiked up further on to the glacier we saw sink holes, crevasses and pools of water. It was an incredibly surreal experience, but so worth it! Before we headed back to the boat we were all given scotch with glacier ice, it didn't taste as nice as the champagne the day before but was still pretty cool. We also made friends with a newly married American couple who we also ended up sitting next to on one of our overnight buses a week later!

That night we received an email from our airline telling us that our flight north had been cancelled and that we were now flying 7 hours later to a different town. This changed our plans because it meant we were now going to have two more full days in El Calafate rather than one.

So, in a bit of a change of plan, the following morning we caught the three hour bus to El Chalten, a small mountaineering town to the north, built in the shadow of the most dramatic mountain range we have ever seen. It had snowed overnight and as we travelled north on the bus, the snow gradually got deeper and deeper until it was about 2 feet deep when we arrived in El Chalten. Only a few of the trails were open because of the heavy snow but the whole area was stunning. There are two main peaks in the area - the Cerro Fitz Roy at 3400m and the Cerro Torre, a mile-high spike of vertical and overhanging granite called Cerro Torre; which was once (though no longer) thought to be the world's hardest mountain to climb.

We set off to climb a couple of the open trails, the first of which was nicely bashed out through the snow and took us to a nice viewpoint of the town and the mountains behind it. We then headed out on the second trail but found it completely untouched with thigh deep snow! After a bit of deliberation we decided to make our own path and bashed our own path to the summit. It took about an hour but the view from the top of a nearby lake and looking the other way, of the town and mountains was truly spectacular!

We spent our last day horseriding. We were picked up from the hostel by our gaucho and taken to his stables. There we were introduced to our horses, before setting off across the plains towards lago Argentina with just the gaucho and his pack of dogs for company. I was on a big brown horse called Echo and Anna was on a smaller brown and white horse called Gringo. After a couple of hours riding we stopped for lunch next to the lake. One of the horses kept trying to join the picnic. After lunch we rode back along the snowy beach. The dogs caught two rabbits on the way home, which the gaucho skinned when he got back to the stables. It was a brilliant day, but we were both walking rather gingerly for the following days!

It was then back to the airport for our fun flying hop back up argentina.

Marking out the trip so far

Marking out the trip so far

Our little plane

Our little plane

Golden view from our room

Golden view from our room

Pink clouds

Pink clouds

Glacier milk

Glacier milk

Wake

Wake

Sun with clouds

Sun with clouds

First icebergs

First icebergs

Iceberg

Iceberg

Spaghetti glacier

Spaghetti glacier

Spegazzini glaciar

Spegazzini glaciar

Anna with glacier

Anna with glacier

Wooooaaahh!

Wooooaaahh!

Glaciar Perito Moreno

Glaciar Perito Moreno

Wall of Ice

Wall of Ice

Champagne with glaciar ice

Champagne with glaciar ice

Glacier Ice

Glacier Ice

spectacular afternoon

spectacular afternoon

All wrapped up at Perito Moreno

All wrapped up at Perito Moreno

Glacier Perito Moreno

Glacier Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno glaciar

Perito Moreno glaciar

Its so big!

Its so big!

The ice

The ice

ice trekking

ice trekking

ice trekking

ice trekking

scotch on the ice

scotch on the ice

with our guide on the ice

with our guide on the ice

Crampons

Crampons

Sunrise on the way to El Chalten

Sunrise on the way to El Chalten

El Chalten town

El Chalten town

El Chalten

El Chalten

Fitz Roy mountain range

Fitz Roy mountain range

The Torre

The Torre

Snowbashing our path through

Snowbashing our path through

At the top!

At the top!

The view over Viedma Lake

The view over Viedma Lake

Snow in el chalten

Snow in el chalten

Horse riding at Lago Argentina

Horse riding at Lago Argentina

On the horse ride

On the horse ride

I'm on a horse! on a snowy beach!

I'm on a horse! on a snowy beach!

On echo the horse

On echo the horse

Posted by awowchuk 19:48 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

Paris of South America

overcast 12 °C
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Buses in Argentina are amazing! We got our seats right at the front of the upper level and excitedly settled in for the 18 hour journey to Buenos Aires. The seats are enormous, leather, have a flat leg rest and fold all the way back making it into a bed! I cannot express how excited we were to have a first class bed on the bus! We put our feet up and relaxed to the rain pounding the bus outside. Throughout the journey we were brought food and wine and slept soundly.
Early next morning in BA we made our way via the subway to our hostel, which was on the main street of BA - Avenida de Mayo (which we learnt the hard way, is not pronounced like the food)

Our first day we walked everywhere! From the hostel we headed up through the city centre, walking past all the dodgy dealers saying 'cambio cambio' and through the ritzy suburb of Recoletta to the Recoletta Cemetary. This cemetary is where the movers and shakers of Buenos Aires have come to rest in elaborate crypts including Eva Peron. They revere her all through out the country, with giant artworks of her plastered onto the sides of buildings on the main boulevards of BA and museum's all over the country and the most visited crypt in Recoletta.
With tiring feet we continued on past all many parks to the trendy district of Palermo. This place was very cool, like Surry Hills back in Sydney. It was full of nice buildings, interesting shops and awesome eateries. We picked a bakery cafe/ bar and sat outside in the sunshine having beer and bread. It was lovely and our feet greatly appreciated it.

That night we indulged in the great Argentinian tradition of Tango. First of all we had a beginner tango lesson which was great fun. This charasmatic argentinian man taught the men and women in seperate goes how to do basic tango steps. Christian had to perform the little routine we learned in front of the whole class. Afterwards we had a lovely three course dinner with an open bar where we chatted with some other aussie couples about their travels and then we watched the Tango show. 3 couples put on an amazing show of tango. Their feet moved sooooo fast. It was very impressive.

Our second day we decided to leave argentina and go on a day trip to Uruguay, firstly to see Colonia, Uruguay, secondly to get a stamp in our passports and thirdly to make some money. We got up early and went through immigration at the dock and then made the boat trip across the bay to Colonia, a pretty little town, strangely filled with lots of old cars (due to the economic history, basically the country couldn't afford to import cars after the 50's and so have lots and lots of old cars around). We walked around the quiet little streets, getting breakfast and then lunch in the sunshine.

Argentina and Uruguay have a strange situation. The Argentinian government keeps argentinian to dollar rate in argentina artificially strong whereas in Uruguay, the Uruguayian peso to Argentinian peso rate is closer to the real market rate and thus if you take out money in Uruguay and exchange it to Argentinian peso's in uruguay you get an effective rate of 7.5 pesos to the dollar instead of 5 in Buenos Aires, thus we went and made (a little bit) of money. It was a nice little excursion that will help pay for our adventures in Patagonia.

At night back in BA we went to the "party" in our enormous hostel. In BA you don't go out till really late, so we napped till midnight then got up and went downstairs for drinks and to dance before going back to bed for what was deemed an "early night" at about 3am!

The following day, after a late start we headed out to explore Palermo a little bit more. In the drizzle we wandered around the streets, where I really enjoyed the architecture and through the street markets before going to get a lovely lunch at a restaurant called Mott. What else do you do in BA then eat meat and drink red wine and this what we did.
That night we had an atrocious pizza for dinner. They really don't know how to make pizza properly if you ask me headed to a hostel down the street where we met up with Hayden (from Rio) at the hostel party and had a great time chatting.

Every sunday the San Telmo district, the historic heart of BA, has a huge street market and so we spent the morning wandering through the mountains of mate cups, scarfs and "antiques". We then headed over to La Boca, the rough working class district of BA, where it is strongly recommended not to go off the tourist path. The district is famous for two reasons - the brighly coloured corrugated steel buildings and the La Boca futbol team. We wandered the few tourist streets first, admiring and slightly confused by the architecture, and then headed to La Boca futbol stadium - the chocolate box. This enormous blue and yellow stadium sits proudly amongst the area. We had hoped to go to a game but as the fans/crowd the previous week had lit flares and got into their rough hooligan antics, the game was played the night previous to an empty stadium. Instead we did a tour of the stadium, seeing the pitch (behind enormous chain fencing and barred wire) and then into the behind the scenes areas. It was quite fascinating. They are really obsessed by futbol in BA.

At night we headed to Palermo where we had made a reservation to La Cabrera, a highly recommended steak restaurant. It was amazing. We had a lovely Argentinian Malbec to drink and a huge rib eye steak. The great thing is you don't need to order any sides and they bring out lots of accompianments in little pots to go with the steak, salad, cous cous, sweet potato mash, roasted garlic, pickled zucchini, egg and cheese souffle, mash with bacon, sweet corn, eggplant and bernaise sauce. Hope your envious because it was amazing!!! We then headed back home in a food coma and packed and prepared for our early start the next day, moving onto Patagonia. It was a flying visit to BA really but we think we got a good little taste of it.

Best bus seats in the world

Best bus seats in the world

Oblisk in BA

Oblisk in BA

Evita's crypt

Evita's crypt

Afternoon beer in Palermo

Afternoon beer in Palermo

Christian doing the tango

Christian doing the tango

Tango

Tango

Old cars in Colonia, Uruguay

Old cars in Colonia, Uruguay

Colonias pretty streets

Colonias pretty streets

Lunch in Palermo

Lunch in Palermo

Markets in San Telmo

Markets in San Telmo

La Boca

La Boca

colours of La Boca

colours of La Boca

Christian in the chocolate box

Christian in the chocolate box

At Boca stadium

At Boca stadium

interview time

interview time

La Cabrera!

La Cabrera!

Steak

Steak

Posted by awowchuk 19:09 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls

waterfalls and stamps

overcast 18 °C
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We arrived into a wet Foz do Iguacu early the next morning. Luckily we were able to check into our hostel as soon as we arrived and after a quick breakfast we set off for the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. We approached the falls from downstream and at first only a few of the lower waterfalls were visible but as we worked our way along the trail more and more came into view. The vantage points on the Brazilian side were quite set back so you had a great view of all 275 falls. There was a viewing platform, that had been built out over a lower sections of the falls, from where you had a pretty good view of the Devil's Throat and even standing several hundred metres from the falls we still got quite wet. We spent a while taking silly photos in front of the falls before following the trail as it continued upstream towards the main section of the waterfalls, known as the "Devil's Throat". Here three waterfalls meet and the water plunges 90m into a horseshoe shapped pit, with the border between Brazil and Argentina going straight through the middle. It was incredible.
Back at the hostel, we spent an excrutiating hour on the phone to bus companies in Argentina, trying to book a bus to Buenos Aires. Several phone calls later, we eventually managed to book our bus and then we headed out for an all you can eat Brazilian BBQ or churascuria. We ate all manner of meats, which were brought round to the table on massive skewers and I also took full advantage of the dessert buffet and its neopolitana ice cream.

The following day we set out for the Argentinian side of the waterfalls. It took quite a while to get to the Argentinian side - we had to get a bus from Foz to the Brazilian border, get off to get our passports stamped, wait for the next bus, ride over the river into Argentina, get off again to go through Argentinian customs, reboard the bus, ride to the bus station and finally change buses for the bus to the waterfalls - but eventually we arrived. The Argentinian side was a lot more developed, than the Brazilian side. They had built a several trails amongst the waterfalls, with walkways and viewing platforms out over many of the falls. The walkways were much closer to the falls, and gave us an awesome view. We started on the lower trail, which had some great views of some of the smaller falls before moving up to the higher trail which weaved its way over and around some of the larger falls. After lunch we caught the little train up towards the Devil's Throat. The train was packed full of old people tour groups who insisted on chearing and whistling and clapping whenever we passed one of the other trains on the track. It was quite a strange experience! We jumped of the train as soon as it pulled into the station and set off along the trail to the Devil's Throat, keen to get away from all the oldies. The walkway was a sort of boardwalk that had been built out across the different branches of the river, upstream of the falls, and it took us right up to the top of the falls. As we approached we started to get sprayed even though we were quite a distance from the falls. As we got nearer the roar got louder and louder until we started to get pretty soaked. When we reached the Devil's Throat the noise was deafening and we got absolutely drenched. The viewing platform was over 90m above the plunge pool but the there was so much spray flying back up that we might as well have been in a shower. I stood in awe for a while, just watching the sheer volume of water tumbling over the edge. It was incredible! We tried to get a few photos from the top but it was a bit of a battle against time as our cameras were getting soaked. I took a video, which we've uploaded below, but it is still difficult to get the sheer sense of scale!
The next morning we were awoken by the sound of pouring rain and we were sooooo thankful we had seen the falls the days before. Today we were leaving for Buenos Aires but first we had to get the public bus across the border to Argentina. The simple task became quite an adventure as we were saturated running the 100m to the bus station, then the same border process was repeated. Finally in the afternoon we were sitting in luxury in our massive coach to BA.

The Argentinian waterfalls

The Argentinian waterfalls

Brazillian side

Brazillian side

more waterfalls

more waterfalls

raised boardwalks on the brazillian side

raised boardwalks on the brazillian side

poncho!

poncho!

looking up the devils throat

looking up the devils throat

can you see

can you see

brazillian side

brazillian side

churrasceria

churrasceria

the train to the falls

the train to the falls

bridges over the waterfalls

bridges over the waterfalls

lots and lots of water

lots and lots of water

walkways and waterfalls

walkways and waterfalls

butterflies in the park

butterflies in the park

cascades

cascades

the calm before the fall

the calm before the fall

the devils throat

the devils throat

Getting soaked

Getting soaked

its so wet!

its so wet!

just some spray!

just some spray!

Devils throat

Devils throat

Posted by awowchuk 13:29 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Santa Catarina Island

not so much fun in the sun

overcast 24 °C
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After what felt like an eternity on our mahusive bus, especcially as apparently adhering to bus schedules is irrelevant, we arrived in Florianopolis - the main city on Santa Catarina island. This island sounded amazing: full of beaches, great food, lakes and small mountains. But after we caught the public buses to where we were staying on the island, Barra de Lagoa we hit a snag. Our hostel was terrible, we finally made an error with our choices and were stuck in a very depressing hostel with a bunch of stoner hippies. at least it had a free pool table and some hammocks.

As soon as we could we got out of there and headed to the beach where we grabbed some lunch sitting out on the sand. Burgers, strangely with corn and peas in them. We then spent the rest of the afternoon happily laying on the beach and swimming. The water was perfectly still and a lovely temperature. As we headed back on the buses into town to get dinner we found we couldn't really grasp this island. This whole island was very strange as it was dead tourist season and didn't have a clear downtown area but it is very developed but not.

Our second day turned into a bit of a shambles. After spending the morning planning the next few legs of our trip we then headed off to see some beaches further south. But it ended up that we spent over an hour on the public buses trying to get to a beach, not even the one we intended. In Brazil they like to have a bus stop what feels like every 10m. By the last bus we didnt care what beach we ended up at and so when to a surf beach called campeche. We rocked up and it was quite windy with a very choppy surf so we went to one of three restaurants in this tiny place and had a seafood lunch of rice, salad, fries and an enormous plate of garlic prawns. It was too choppy to swim so we walked along the beach watching the surfers for a while before heading back on our long bus trip.
That night we had a lovely brazillian steak dinner looking out over the water and chatting to the restaurant owner about the place and the dead season

On our last full day here we refused to take any buses and so headed up the tiny path from our hostel to the beach for the day. Unfortuntely it was windy again so we didn't last too long on the beach before we went walking to find lunch and then went exploring along one of the coastal paths. Here we found this enormous rock area where lots of young people were sunbathing and jumping off the rocks into the water. Christian followed suit jumping and diving off. It was a beautiful location looking back along the coast to the main beach. It was very relaxing.
We again for a 3rd night in a row headed back into town for dinner, another brazillian speciality - pizza.

We were finally leaving, we couldn't wait to leave our dive of a hostel and go see something completely different. As it was another windy day we went for a big walk along the beach. It goes for 14km or so. We then had lunch looking out over the beach before heading back and grabbing our gear and making the very slow bus all the way back to the Interstate bus station. With enthusiasm we jumped on the bus and were off, Iguasu Falls, here we come.

mahusive buses

mahusive buses


Barra de Lagoa beach

Barra de Lagoa beach

Seafood lunch by the beach

Seafood lunch by the beach

At campeche beach

At campeche beach

At the beach

At the beach

looking out over barra de lagoa

looking out over barra de lagoa

Jumping off

Jumping off

Diving off

Diving off

enjoying the sunshine

enjoying the sunshine

Posted by awowchuk 04:13 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Paraty

Cobblestones, caipirinhas and catching waves

semi-overcast 26 °C
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Eventually our boat from Ilha Grande moved again and we arrived on shore and then had a van ride to Paraty, a coastal town with an historic town centre and a myriad of beaches in the surrounding islands and all up and down the coast.
We arrived at night and after quicky checking in we headed out for an early dinner of pizza before crashing early. I think you can sum up the whole extent of Brazil's cuisine in a few words: Meat, Fish, Rice, Beans, Salad, Italian food, crepes, burgers and strogonoff. That is pretty much the range of food here.

The next morning was our first day of rain on our trip, thankfully it stopped by the time we headed out but it was overcast all day, thus we wandered around the pretty old town with its white buildings with colourful door openings and its ridiculously cobblestoned streets. The strangest thing was the flooded streets though, around the harbour the streets appear to permanently be under a foot or two of water and you just have to deal with it and move your way around on the dry cobblestones.

We also went to the town beaches which were in this weather kind of miserable so we figured we may as well get lunch and thus spent an hour or so having a lovely lunch outside in the cobblestoned streets. The rest of the afternoon and evening we hung out at the hostel catching up on travel plans, playing cards and the like.

We had arranged to do a day tour of a small fishing/beach village half an hour away in Trindade. Our first stop was a very choppy surf beach where weren't able to swim so we spent a bit of time clambering over the rocks and taking photos before moving on to the main village. The village of Trindade is set on a huge, fairly sheltered bay. We walked along to the end of the beach before cutting over the headland to the next bay. The next bay had two halves. The first was very little but had pretty fierce surf. Christian spent about half an hour bodysurfing and got absolutely smashed by a couple of waves. We then walked further round the bay, through a little channel and bit of forest to a much longer beach and then to what the tour companies described as the "swimming pool". The pool was actually more of a lagoon, protected from the open sea by several huge boulders. It was a beautiful area, full of fish, and we spent a while swimming and then warming up on the rocks. We then caught a dinghy back to the main village where we had another swim and then an amazing late lunch sitting out at a table in the sand. It was a stunning brazillian fish meal in a perfect setting.

That night back at the hostel we had some ridiculously strong caipirinhas, Brazil's national drink and chilled out.

Our last morning in Paraty involved some intense repacking, chilling out by the hostel pool, watching the monkeys at the hostel and then a quick lunch of strogonoff (they seriously love it here and put it into everything - pizza, crepes, with crisps. weird) and then it was off on our ridiculously long bus ride to Florianopolis via Sao Paulo.

Walking around the streets of Paraty

Walking around the streets of Paraty

The flooded roads of paraty

The flooded roads of paraty

Streets of Paraty

Streets of Paraty

Some rocks on a beach. Trindade

Some rocks on a beach. Trindade

Gorgeous trindade

Gorgeous trindade

Another gorgeous beach at trindade

Another gorgeous beach at trindade

At the trindade swimming pool

At the trindade swimming pool

On the dingy back

On the dingy back

Our lovely seafood lunch on the beach

Our lovely seafood lunch on the beach


Monkeys at our hostel

Monkeys at our hostel

Posted by awowchuk 20:08 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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